ReaderWriterVille

Blog in progress

Category: politics

ReaderWriterLinks

Like the Weeknote post, the links post is late this week, but not absent!

Here is yet another article on how news isn’t news anymore. Yes, it’s a preoccupation of mine. I’ve been thinking about writing a post on what reading the “news” in the 21stC looks like these days. I’ve talked about it in links posts, but it deserves its own discussion. In the meantime, though, read this thoughtful Guardian article on news media consumption.

The profound experiential shift we have recently experienced is not merely down to the fact that the news is now available around the clock; CNN pioneered that, way back in 1980. Instead, it arises from the much newer feeling of actively participating in it, thanks to the interactivity of social media. If you are, say, angry about Brexit, it is possible to be angry about Brexit almost all of the time: to encounter new and enraging facts about Brexit, and opportunities to vent about Brexit, in ways that would have been unthinkable as recently as the mid-2000s. If you had fulminated then to your family and colleagues as even respected peers, novelists and philosophers now routinely fulminate on Twitter, you’d have alienated everyone you knew.

One crucial difference is that raging on Facebook, or sharing posts or voting in online polls, feels like doing something – an intervention that might, in however minuscule a way, change the outcome of the story. This sense of agency may largely be an illusion – one that serves the interests of the social media platforms to which it helps addict us – but it is undeniably powerful. And it extends even to those who themselves never comment or post. The sheer fact of being able to click, in accordance with your interests, through a bottomless supply of updates, commentary, jokes and analysis, feels like a form of participation in the news, utterly unlike passively consuming the same headlines repeated through the day on CNN or the BBC.

I think that one of the reasons we feel as if tweeting and sharing and so on is “doing something” is that activism and protest have been transformed by the availability of social media. There’s no question that coordination is easier with online tools. But limiting our participation to online forums rather and foregoing the old-fashioned, effortful methods of physically showing up to a meeting or public gathering (for those of us who have that option; not everyone does) does not do much to advance collective action goals. Yes, the Arab Spring was aided by Twitter. But did you know that the most common ways of communicating information during those protests were still through voice and text? And, for all of us, there is evidence that reacting and venting on social media about supposedly newsworthy events makes us feel worse about the world, not better.


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ReaderWriterLinks

I stopped using my Twitter account last June, but I still visit friends’ and others’ feeds occasionally, and I found a link to this gem of an article. Ignore the headline, the real title is in the URL: “Buckle Up Twitter is cancelled.” We’ve all experienced Buckle Up Twitter, i.e., those hectoring Tweetstorms that can only be written by someone who doesn’t actually know much about the subject they’re lecturing the Twitterverse on.

Buckle Up Twitter will not be vanquished by things like “historical accuracy” or “profound embarrassment.” The other day I saw evidence of a thread, now sadly deleted, with the premise that the writing maxim “show, don’t tell” expected and indeed demanded an act of emotional labor from the reader that was similar if not identical to the emotional labor extracted by white men in their dealings with the rest of the world. There was a thread “calling out” King Leopold of Belgium.

I have seen threads that would make your eyes water, and in all cases, the responses were not what I personally would have anticipated. Things being what they are, I would have thought that a thread that began like “LISTEN UP DICKHOLES: TIME FOR A RANT ABOUT HOW LAVRENTIY BERIA WAS A TOTAL JERK AND A REAL PERV” would end with an apology and a promise never to do it again, but why would you apologize when you are met with joy and delight? The thing about Buckle Up Twitter, hard as this may be for right-thinking people like me to accept, is that a lot of other people LOVE IT. They absolutely love to be told that they are morons and that all of this is actually Beau Brummell’s doing.

The Beau Brummell thread which introduces the piece is so eye-wateringly bad (and yet so equally sure of its brilliance and wit) that it’s hard to imagine there’s a better illustration. Except, of course, for the Greatest Buckle Up Twitter Thread of Them All: Time for Some Game Theory. I shudder to think what it would take to dethrone that one.

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The White Card by Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine’s latest work is a play. It premiered last year in Boston and was covered locally, but I didn’t know anything about it until I saw an advance copy of the published script listed as “coming soon” at my library’s Overdrive account. The White Card is a two-act play that explores whiteness, white privilege, and how they affect art, and it grew out of Rankine’s public Q&As about her much lauded poetry collection, Citizen: An American Lyric. The play has five characters: Virginia and Charles, a wealthy white couple who are art collectors, their college-aged son Alex, their white art dealer Eric, and Charlotte, a youngish black artist whose work most recent work they hope to acquire.

White Card book cover

The first act takes place in Virginia and Charles’s apartment, which is filled with art on the themes of racism and protest. They’ve given their black maid (their description, not mine) the night off and are hosting Charlotte and Eric to dinner. Charlotte is picky about whom she will sell her artwork to and Virginia and Charles know she hasn’t decided about them, but they seem pretty confident that their liberal credentials will get them what they want. The conversation is stilted and predictable, a reprise of set pieces we’ve seen at least since Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Reading the dialogue rather than seeing it performed emphasizes how stylized it is, but it’s mostly effective and builds to a shattering climax in the first half, when Virginia and Charles reveal their latest race-centered acquisition. They see it as part of their overall collection, which they have curated to emphasize the racism and inequalities black Americans live with, and they (and to a lesser extent Eric) can’t understand why Alex and Charlotte find it exploitative and unacceptable. It’s a predictable outcome, but it is powerful nonetheless.

The second act takes place a year after this dinner party and is a two-hander between Charlotte and Charles. And it occurs on Charlotte’s turf: Charles comes to her studio. Charlotte’s experience the previous year led her to abandon her work in progress, which was a restaging of the Charleston church killings. She has come to believe that constantly showing black bodies in states of distress or as subjects of violence reinforces whiteness and the white gaze rather than challenging it, and she has turned her method to a different subject: Charles.

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Review: Tell Me How It Ends, by Valeria Luiselli

This is a shortish essay whose full title is Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions. It is drawn from work Luiselli did in 2015/16 with unaccompanied immigrant children who were in deportation and removal proceedings in New York. Luiselli served as a translator, working through a 40-item questionnaire prepared by organizations and lawyers representing and assisting these children in the legal process. The children range from five years old to mid-teenagers, so their ability to answer these questions and help to build a case to fight removal varies quite a bit.

Quite apart from the literary merits of the book, which are considerable, this is an excellent introduction to the process children who arrive unaccompanied at the border go through. They are brought from the Central American nations (unaccompanied children from Mexico can be legally and summarily returned without proceedings), and once they have crossed into the United States they give them themselves up to detention by DHS/ICE. The lucky ones are united with family in the US and go through the legal process with them. The specific children Luiselli works with have been placed with family in the NYC area and have had their cases taken up by organizations who try to find grounds for them to be granted legal resident status.

Our recent conversation around immigration has understandably revolved around the draconian policies and cruelty of the Trump Administration’s immigration efforts, but one of Luiselli’s critical contributions is to remind us that harsh treatment of children and other undocumented immigrants is not unique to Trump. Her entire experience as related here takes place during the Obama administration, and the reader is shown why he was called the Deporter-in-Chief in his second term. And Bush before him, and Clinton, laid the groundwork for these policies. What distinguishes the current administration’s approach is its scale, racism, and barbarity, but the policies themselves are extensions of past practices, not major departures from them. 

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ReaderWriterLinks

Yes, they’re back. I should probably pick a day and make that Links Day, but in the meantime, here are a handful for your weekend reading.


The RITA finalists were announced this past week. Once again there were hardly any African-American authors who finaled, and I didn’t see many LGBT authors either, although I didn’t scrutinize the lists that carefully. I peeked over at Twitter and found that understandably, there was a lot of angry discussion about it.

It’s very disheartening to see these kinds of exclusions year and after year, especially when the RWA leadership has become more diverse and progressive. Unfortunately the awards submission, judging, and evaluation systems are not keeping pace (to put it mildly). I’ve thought about these issues over the years and looked at various aspects of the problem. I am sorry to say that I don’t think much will change until the overall romance readership is more reflective of the Romanceland readership that we hang out in. And similarly with the overall membership of RWA.

I’ve examined what is available of RWA surveys over the last 20 years, and they are consistent in terms of the demographic composition of romance readers. They are disproportionately Southern, Christian, white, and middle-aged. If you asked me to describe a modal (i.e., most common) romance reader, I’d say she lives in a medium-sized town or major-city suburb in the southern US, is white, in her 40s or 50s, and alternates between Romantic Suspense, Contemporary Romance and Amish Romances. She doesn’t read much LGBT of any type within the romance genre. And she’s on the conservative side.

That’s not the demographic that’s going to regularly pick Alyssa Cole’s books over Robyn Carr’s. Or Helen Hoang’s. Or KJ Charles’s. It’s just not.

It’s another reminder that the internet is full of silos. Twitter has remained stable over the last few years in terms of participation: about 20 percent of Americans use the service regularly. Romance Twitter and online Romanceland more generally do not represent the full range of who is buying and reading romance novels.


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